Tester: Veterans' burn pit damage health care bill 'a big damn deal'

Published by Tom Lutey

(J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, ASSOCIATED PRESS)


A years-long struggle to assure health coverage for some 3.5 million combat veterans exposed to military burn pits since 9/11 has taken a big step forward as the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the measure last week.


The bill, known as the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act, had been introduced just 15 days earlier by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, and Ranking Member Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican.


Friday, Tester said it was likely every combat veteran since 2001 had been exposed to potentially toxic substances emitted from trash pits in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11. The Department of Defense also recognizes the problem in veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the 1990s, where burning garbage was the norm.


The legislation that passed Feb. 16, was the product of earlier bills by several Senate Veterans’ Affairs members that received hearings in 2021.


“When we did a hearing on the bills that are in this bill nine months ago, there were people who had needed a double lung transplant for God’s sake because of this,” Tester said. “One guy was in pretty tough shape, to be honest. We had to move the meeting to be able to meet his health care requirements.”


It’s estimated by the Department of Defense that 3.5 million combat veterans were exposed to toxic trash fires and other sources of toxic emissions. Of those combat vets, roughly a third don’t have coverage for exposure....


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